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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2003/02/24
by David Steinberg

Third Stage

The weeks between the Superbowl and baseball Opening Day is the worst
part of the year. Hockey doesn’t really get interesting until the
playoffs and basketball bores me all of the time. Most bands are
recovering from New Years’. The holidays and my birthday are over;
all that’s left is President’s Day. It’s as though the weather was
reflected into the world. Everything is grey and bleak… well at
least in a normal year. This is 2003 and the doldrums are broken up
by the first real Phish tour in years.
As I was working on a column complaining about "The Dead’s" name
change and doing a lot of research to explain how their setlists
showed that they were just a nostalgia band [1], I was having a blast
in Las Vegas. Talk about a mood changer. I can’t keep up the ire
about something that trivial. Instead I’d like to mention a
revelation that I had.
Something happens to people when they start seeing a lot of shows by a
band. We’ve all seen this happen. At first they’re busy being blown
away, but slowly, as they get to twenty or thirty shows, setlists
start to matter more and more. They might have loved a song the first
five times they saw it, but by the tenth time it’s a boring repeat.
Novelty of song selection becomes more important than almost anything.
Jadedness starts to become a dominant theme.
Between that newfound jadedness and the simple fact that most people
have less free time when they get older, people start seeing a lot
fewer shows once they pass the century mark. Other interests take
hold. Spending all of your vacation time and most of your money to
see a rock band seems less important somehow. This is why a lot of
people make it to 100 shows, but very few seem to make it to 200.
It’s also why the inverse trend isn’t as well known. Everyone knows
that loving every song your favorite band plays is a sign of being a
new fan. What fewer people have been able to see is that the setlist
judging and mocking of frequently played songs is as much of a stage.
Slowly, as you start to see more breakouts and begin to pick up most
of the rare songs, setlists matter less. A song you’ve seen fifteen
times might be boring. One you’ve seen fifty times is more like a
ritual that brings back memories of all of the other times and places
that you saw it.
Maybe some of the people reading this column are in the height of the
jaded stage. If you’re finding yourself spending more time
complaining about obvious setlist calls and needing more and more
spectacular sets to keep your interest, know that you have a choice.
Yes, it makes sense to focus your attention elsewhere if you’re not
getting the same pleasure out of the music. However, once you get
over the hump, you might be surprised at how much you like them again.
The next time you’re tempted to say something mocking about fans who
are at their first show and want a Bouncing or Touch of Grey or
Smile, remember that your mood is just as much of a stage as theirs.
Stick around and you just might like seeing them again yourself.
[1] 60% of all songs played (counting by number of times played, not
by raw number of songs) were Jerry or Pigpen songs. 91% of all songs
played were of songs that were at least 20 years old.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of
live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His
Phish stats website is at
and he is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion. He
is also on the board of directors for
Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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